Monday, August 24, 2009

Aging women: if you don't laugh, you'll cry (NYT)

Today's New York Times looks at More magazine, aimed at women over 40.

Stephanie Clifford points out that a magazine whose organizing principle, aging, provokes anxiety among its readers, has an inescapable challenge.
“Don’t take it seriously,” Lesley Jane Seymour, the editor in chief of More, said in a recent interview. “We’re making fun of ourselves. We don’t take aging seriously. It happens to everyone. You can’t avoid it.”

More certainly does not. Age infiltrates almost every article, and while it is a touchy subject for readers, advertisers are wary about it as well. More’s average reader is 51, among the oldest in the magazine business, making selling ads a challenge, More executives say. While it tackles ageism in its pages, it is getting a good dose of it from advertisers.

Advertisers show the same blind spots as I mentioned in my last blog:
[Advertisers] penalize the magazine because its readers are female. The More reader makes a lot more than the average reader of Esquire, at about $66,800, and GQ, at about $75,100. But where GQ, Esquire, and the younger women’s magazines are filled with ads for designer clothes, fragrances and expensive accessories, the ads in More suggest that when rich women hit 40, they yearn for cheap processed foods.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Marketing to old people: aesthetics

Thinking further about why stuff that is marketed to old people is usually so ugly...

My parents' generation had little choice. In New Zealand, imports were restricted and variety non-existent. Everyone had the same things, pretty much. Shopping for household goods, the choice was between ugly and less ugly.

No, that's too mean. I'm very fond of memories from the home of my parents-in-law: bevelled edge mirrors, pink china shepherdesses, multi-coloured crocheted afghans, speckled green cups and saucers, net curtains, pink candlewick bedspreads and altogether a plain, plain interior.

My grandmother Mim had charming, exquisite tea sets in Royal Albert bone china, and a dresser of Mason ware for everyday use. Raising six girls on a few hundred pounds per year, my mother served tea from a silver teapot. The women of our low-income family made their few house-ware purchases with pride and focus. They longed for beautiful things — but choice was minimal and money tight.

Then in the 50s and 60s, things changed. My big sister Jill also had to be acutely careful with money, but with an astute eye for beauty she was able to buy elegant things, simple and streamlined. The home of Jill and Graham, two penniless students with four children, gleamed with Poole Pottery twintone china (as in the photo) and Danish styled furniture.

Now what puzzles me here is that today, in 2009, marketers still use a fake Edwardian style in the goods they market to older people. We get a catalogue in our letter boxes called "Innovations". (Whoever thought up that name had a sense of humour.) It features fascinating, and often bizarre, and usually unnecessary, items for older people.

Often the wood is carved or the iron twisted into curlicues. Linen is embroidered in cross stitch.

That's all very well, but the people who are hitting 70 nowadays have lived a lifetime in homes with some variety and charm. So they're marketing to old, old people. Or maybe dead people. Wake up, marketers! We do not want that yukky stuff.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The cruel aesthetics of old people's stuff

As you get old, you need old people's stuff. Great design never seems to be a priority. In fact, much old people's stuff looks repulsive.

Take shower mats. Old people slip in the shower, right? Solution: a rubber mat that grips the slippery wet base, and that responds to the grip of your dear old toes.

Trouble is, shower mats, like so much old people's stuff, are usually ugly or boring or so boring they are ugly. More than ugly: vile, hideous, disgusting. Colours are modelled on slimy old pink nighties or the dreaded beige raincoat. Lumps in the rubber are like serious acne or boils. The texture sets your teeth on edge.

So OK, I did slip in the shower recently, the first time ever. Wham! Maybe it was a oncer. Maybe it was because I was simultaneously stepping into the shower and mentally listing the jobs of the next 90 minutes. (1. Shower & dress etc. 2. Finish packing. 3. Run to computer shop for replacement netbook cable. 4. Call taxi. 5. Catch plane to Tonga.)

Regardless, if you live alone, best not muck around with risk.

On my return I bought a handsome shower mat from Moore Wilson. It combines the beauties of a chess board, space age jelly, and a crystal prism twinkling in the sun. In the structure I see two extremes in harmony: post-modern industrial steel and the Tofukuji moss garden in Kyoto. Aesthetically I'm satisfied.

And for the next week I owned another beautiful image as an impressive bruise flickered through various permutations of blue, black, yellow and green. Nature's painting on my bum.

Friday, August 14, 2009

This blog: on the cards for 60 years

Here's a weird thing that happened when I was a kid, about the same age as in this photo. (That's me, third from the left, with my sisters.) I said something to my mother that shocked her to the bones.

"I can't wait to die!" I said excitedly. I wasn't being morbid but enthusiastic.

Mother looked so horrified that I hastened to explain.

"I don't want to die yet!" I assured her. "But I just think it will be so interesting."

It's true I was secretly attracted to the hypothetical concept of dying young. But above all I thought the process would be fascinating, especially discovering what happens after you die.

To be honest, nowadays I'm not half so enthusiastic about the prospect of dying. On the other hand, I am still extremely interested, or I wouldn't be writing this blog.

Lost word of the day: cyclamen

I bought this terrific pot plant at the supermarket, which survived my absence without water for a week. I buy a cyclamen roughly once a decade. This morning, a brief moment of forgetting the name.

I'm trying to see a pattern here. Tonga, cyclamen...

Exotic colourful things?

Rarely used, unfamiliar words? Sure, this trip to Tonga with a friend was a very casually arranged holiday: we just picked a cheap destination, did almost no homework or preparation, and when the time came, popped on the plane. It was a frivolous case of This is Wednesday so it must be Tonga.

But no, there's no provocation to forget these particular words. They are worthy, deserving words that could be handy in the future. They do not deserve to be lost.

One rule: the word I forget is always a noun.

Just like on those annoying moments when I hesitate over a word, and others (dum de dum de dum, bo-o-oring) supply it. I feel like a walking — but not talking — old-lady join-the-dots puzzle. I could replace sudoku as the next great puzzle for the masses with my hesitations.

I'm not starting work yet. I'm going downstairs for coffee and sudoku.

Where am I? Memory flickering

It's happened a thousand times to me, and probably to you: that word you wanted just slithers away like a whitebait. You have to trick it into returning to its cage of axons; you have to pretend you don't care, and ambush it later. It's usually lurking there somewhere.

Now that doesn't matter if it's a word like axons which you use rarely because you have never been a brain surgeon and the only brain you work with is your own.

But what happens if the name of an entire country escapes you — the country you are in? That's the sort of question doctors ask you after a head injury: Do you know what country this is?

On Day 2 of my holiday in Tonga I woke early and couldn't figure where I was. I could have confidently found it on a map, or told you it was a South Pacific island kingdom less than three hours' flight from New Zealand. But what was its name?

I lay there for (probably) several minutes unable to retrieve this significant little vocabulary fish from my memory. Could it be Tonga? I wondered. Tongatapu and Nukualofa slithered around without pushing Tonga to the surface. Tonga was in my mind, yet I couldn't quite connect the word to the place. Sheepishly I got up and confirmed my hunch by consulting a pamphlet: Yes, Tonga.

Then a truly scary moment came: for a few seconds, Tonga didn't quite convince me.

Whenever I travel, whether at 69 or 29, I'm likely to feel this disorientation in the early morning. You too? I assume it's quite common. After dawn we can use the sun's position to tell north from south and east from west, although even that can be tricky in a different hemisphere or on a ship or near the Antarctic. But at 5 a.m. in an unfamiliar bed, our location can be a mystery.

Nevertheless, I can't believe that losing Tonga is normal for younger people. It just might be normal for an old lady.

Might as well laugh about that, I suppose.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old lady bike riding

This week I'm holidaying in Tonga and riding bicycles is a great way to get around the small, flat island of Tongatapu. Yesterday my friend and I set out on the very sturdy bikes provided by the lovely Heilala Holiday Lodge.

Subtext in my mind... Can I still ride a bike? Can I ride one easily, without pain? Will I be fit for the 5-day Otago rail trail bike ride next year, planned as a 70th birthday celebration?

All my unspoken, nervous questions were answered: yes, yes and sure thing.

It helped, no doubt, that the bike's saddle was exceptionally wide and comfy.

As for fitness, I decided to use the Feldenkrais principles. To exert as little effort as possible. To experiment with unusual positions. (!) To let gravity and natural momentum carry me along.

And so it came to pass. The bicycle (that one, anyway) is a marvellous piece of engineering. The slightest effort keeps you rolling along. And hey, it was exhilarating! Wind in the hair, bouncing through potholes, skimming country roads through unknown territory. Even getting somewhat lost was fun.

We did have a destination and we got there: Keliti Beach, with pancake rocks, pounding waves, and mini-blowholes. But that's the least of it.